Publisher: Focus Home Interactive
Developer: Cyanide Studios
Release Date: 04/04/2012
Confrontation, for those who don’t follow the tabletop miniatures market at all, started off as a miniatures line from Rakham, a French miniatures company. The designs were unique, the quality of the miniatures was fantastic, and the actual tabletop gameplay for the set was a blast. Rakham ended up releasing a plastic pre-painted version along with the metal figures and eventually branched out into AT-43, a sci-fi squad and army based war game which was all pre-painted plastic miniatures. Then Rakham hit some financial trouble, spun off into another company with Rakham in the name and finally went into bankruptcy a year later. Before the bankruptcy, a computer version of Confrontation was in development, and when Rakham began liquidating its assets, the ownership of Confrontation got snatched up by the video game studio developing the PC game. After a delay or two, Confrontation was released. The tabletop had a rich and colorful history with artwork and miniatures to match. Did the PC version capture that? Let’s take a look.
Confrontation is set in the magical realm of Aarklash, a war torn world where factions vie for control as a new Ragnarok is coming upon the land. At first glance it seems like a pretty standard fantasy realm, until you get to the magical driven cybernetic undead and genetic experiments gone wrong and you realize there’s an interesting and dark mix going on here. While primarily a dark fantasy feel, there are some neat sci-fi and undead elements there as well. The single player campaign puts you in charge of the Griffins, what would appear to be the good guys of this world, or at the very least the more normal group. You start off with a small squad of four stuck behind enemy lines near a laboratory where horrors are being created for the war, and it’s up to you to investigate and stop these from continuing. You end up meeting up with another group who you play as separately before the two groups meet up, and again later with a smaller group making their way into the same laboratory. Once you’ve managed to get everyone together, you can pick and choose your group of four Griffin’s to take on your missions.
Overall the story line is pretty decent, but you don’t feel all that involved outside of the missions you go on, and there is quite a bit going on outside the missions if you don’t skip the giant narrations that can go on for over 5 minutes. I actually read through them much faster than the narrator, but he does give it some nice flair. I mean you do feel involved when you’re in the missions and doing something, but in between missions there’s quite a bit going on that the narrator passes down to you, and while you hear about it, would have been nice to be involved with it somehow. Picking and choosing your characters doesn’t do anything to alter the story as far as I could tell, even going so far as to tell me that one character’s group had entered the laboratory when I hadn’t even brought him along. Granted this is the group he’s technically in charge of and I could swap him in at a rest point, but that’s not how it’s put to you by the narrator. The setting is rich in lore and history, and its very neat to see so much of it getting used in the game itself and not just in the Codex entries.
Visually, the game is kind of a mixed bag. The levels and lighting effects, the map layouts and dungeon dressing, all look amazing when you crank everything up to high. When I’d first installed it the game had set itself to medium settings, but I corrected that, as almost all my Steam games set for low to medium settings when I can run a lot of them on max settings with a great framerate. Character models look decent, and there’s where the mixed bag comes in. Even at the highest settings the characters and enemies don’t look as good or as polished as the environments they’re in. When you’re zoomed out they fit better in with the world, but zooming all the way in to get a better look at them, as they are fairly detailed, you can see they don’t quite mesh well with their environment. The art design for the PC version is outstanding. While the characters do stick out in game a little bit, they do a pretty amazing job of translating the artwork and miniatures into the video game world and make them move fairly believably. One of the neat options is to go in and paint your ‘miniatures’ on what appears to be a virtual tabletop setting. The array of colors to choose from really lets you set your army apart from others in multiplayer, if you can ever find someone to play against. More on that in a bit.
The narrator does a great job with bringing the story to life. He’s got an interesting voice and I only really skipped the long dialogues I’d already heard before after re-loading from a party wipe. Each party member has a distinct voice, and while attack and battle phrases do get repeated, it’s not as nearly as annoying as it could have been. The only time I cringed is when I had my tank as party leader because he sounded like someone had taken a cheese grater to his voice box, drowned him in a tank and then had him do his lines. I ended up putting my caster as leader and just selected him as needed because hearing him every time I wanted the party to move, or have him hit up a treasure box or lever gave me chills and not in a good way. The music is ok. It feels very generic, but it’s deep and bellowing and very epic even if you don’t remember it later. My only beef was on some pieces you could actually hear the stop before it looped back around to the start again so that was a little distracting.
Controls are set up through the keyboard and mouse. You can do movement and character selection through the keyboard as well as with the mouse. I found myself using the mouse for pretty much everything though as all the keyboard commands are duplicated in the User Interface. You’re looking down at it from an isometric view, very reminiscent of Baldur’s Gate, and you can select and move your party in much the same way. If there is a bit of the map in your way, just move the camera around, because unlike Icewind Dale and Baldur’s Gate, your camera is not fixed so you can rotate around to get a better view. I bring this up because I saw someone complaining about it the other day saying terrain could block the camera and I was left wondering why they didn’t simply rotate the camera around so they could see. Controls are very responsive and the characters at least try to do what you tell them to. If you’re trying to order them through a solid wall they’ll try their hardest to get through it, but it’s just not going to happen.
Gameplay is an interesting mix of RPG and Strategy elements. I’ll tackle the RPG stuff first. Each character has a stat block, a skills list that varies per character, an armor slot and depending on the character, up to two types of weapons. You have different stats to choose from as you’re leveling up to put your points in, and the recommended ones for each character are bolded on the character sheet to lend a hand in choosing what will work best with their skill set. Skills get unlocked as you level, most characters starting out with only access to three and moving up to 6. You get points to upgrade these skills that either increase damage, add effects, or reduce cost or recharge time. Skills range from buffs and debuffs to increasing attack damage and spells. Armor and Weapons get a little complicated. Instead of simply equipping armor and weapons you might find on the missions, you get armor, weapon, and rune points based on what you’ve found on missions. Scattered around the levels are chests and equipment racks as well as elemental rune access points. These give you upgrade points that you can use to upgrade the armor and weapons of your characters by adding different stat points or abilities to them. You don’t get a lot of these and you have a lot of characters to go around so you have to use these carefully as you’re leveling up to make sure it’ll all work with what you’re putting together.
On to strategy. This game’s combat plays out in real-time, but like Baldur’s Gate and the RPGs that did it this way of old, you can pause to give your party members commands. This is actually key because while they’ll do a base attack with their weapons, the truly devastating effects are tied to skills that you have to order them to do. You can actually break your party down into the MMO and classic RPG roles and have a decent go at it. I had the best success when I went with someone who had some healing for the party, a tank who could take a lot of damage, some DPS and a caster. The roles are a little mixed as far as healing and DPS and casting spells go, but you can kind of figure it out. I also had some good success with doing up a pure DPS group that had two casters and two melee or ranged, but that one runs the risk of wiping pretty quick if more than two of them get stunned. Both you and the enemy can do different effects, stunning is one and you can’t act when this happens, being controlled and charmed is another. Charm can really suck as it takes over one fo your party and they start attacking another member in your party. They won’t use skills, but it’s one less member hitting on your enemy. There are buff skills that help prevent this, but you have to buff up pretty quick right before combat, but they don’t last all that long, so go into a fight planning for stuns and control use and hang a few ranged people back to help combat this.
What this really boils down to is micro-managing almost any fight that isn’t a boss and has less than 3 enemies to take out. The pause button becomes your intimate friend as you go through picking skills, buffing and debuffing, and generally making sure your party lives long enough to make it through and heal. Between fights your skill points and hit points recharge at a really fast rate. Most of the levels you go into are fairly large and elaborately laid out with a few traps here and there controlled by levers along with locked doors. To fully explore one of the maps, and I’m talking every inch and corner, took me almost 2 hours with the fighting. One of the issues the game has though, to go along with micro-managing, are the tight corners and spell range.
If there are tight corridors or areas, usually only one squad member can fit through and the others will get stuck or have to wait for the first member to get through. This is okay when you’re exploring, but in combat this can get insanely frustrating. You’ll have members not able to do anything because one of the casters got stuck and attacked so they’re getting wiped out quickly and your tank can’t get around them to draw the enemy away. On top of that, most of the spells seem to need the caster to get in awfully close to fire them off, which really defeats the purpose of the spells being ranged in the first place. You can get around that with careful planning, moving your caster in quickly to fire it off then moving them out again to go back to ranged attacks, but that runs the risk of them getting stunned or aggro’d on by a melee unit which will probably make them dead.
If your party members get to zero hit points, they are in agony status and slowly bleeding to death on the ground. This is bad, so if this happens, make the combat go much faster or very carefully peel the party member that’s the least effective off to heal the downed member to get them back into it. I’ve cut it very close on several occasions because the big heavy guys wouldn’t drop fast enough, probably because my heavy hitting glass cannon of a caster had been pummeled to death. It’s very easy to get overrun with mobs if you’re not careful, especially the wandering kind. I’d got involved in one fight that I was carefully managing so it was a 4 on 4 fight when a wandering mob came down the corridor and suddenly it was 10 on 4 and I’d lost my caster. The rest of my party was soon to drop and I found myself reloading in annoyance. Quick Save often. Speaking of saves, the game does auto-save on the completion of a level, however, in the character select screen, you don’t have the option of saving. So once you get into that next dungeon, save, otherwise the leveling or whatever you did in the select screen will get wiped and you’ll have to do that again as well as sit through the narration again until you can hit the skip button. So really, while I was loving this game, I was hating it all at the same time. The mechanics are neat, but they feel either unpolished, or at the very least a little clunky. I’d have preferred to be able to do a little less micro-managing than I have been even on the easiest difficulty
Multiplayer would probably be the big draw to play this one again, if there were people online. The story is ok, but you can really get all the achievements playing through just once if you rotate your party members enough. One of the neat things is you can unlock bonus missions that take you back into areas you were in previously to get revenge or other nifty little story hooks from the extra content button on the main menu. These play independently of the main campaign, complete with their own difficulty setting. As much as I love the setting and want to like this game, I think this is one I’m going to finish once and come back to it every few years or so, unless I an get a friend or two to pick it up to play online with.
You do get quite a bit of game for the price of this title, I will say that. Priced higher than a budget title but lower than a big budget title, you’re getting pretty decent value for the price content wise. The mirco-managing really drives up the difficulty though even on the easiest settings, and while there was an increase in difficulty, I found myself fighting more with trying to keep everything flowing the way I wanted to during combat and micro-managing it all rather than enjoying that end of it. Casters really seem to get the short end of things overall as melee and standard ranged units have more value for them even though there are plenty of caster type characters to choose from. A little tweaking here and there would go a long way to evening out the playing field a bit.
As far as being original, they’ve taken some of the better elements from RPGs I loved to play and put a neat spin on them, even if the execution is a little flawed. The Confrontation IP, while not new to the tabletop, has been uniquely implemented here in this game. If you’re looking for a fresh take on the Strategy RPG, this has that, although a bit flawed in the execution. I will say, while not as addictive as some of the other games I’ve been playing, as frustrated as I got with some of the battles, I was actually very excited to be firing it up again to play some more. Realistically though, I can see this appealing to fans of the tabletop game, and maybe a niche of gamers who like a challenge. There’s far too much of having to manage every little aspect of combat that’ll drive most people away from it. I like a challenge, but sometimes I just like sitting back and taking it easy, and even on easy mode you don’t have that.
For the most part I didn’t have to may bugs with the game. Two of my crashes were related to something I had going on in Windows and not the game itself, and the third was from a Steam update. Other than those it ran solidly. There are some pathing issues with the characters in the game, the sound hiccuping once in awhile on looping battle music tracks, and I had the narrator cut out once or twice. Other than that it ran smooth as silk. I think another layer of polish would have been good for the game, but it is certainly playable now, if you can keep on top of things.
Control and Gameplay: Mediocre
Appeal Factor: Above Average
Miscellaneous: Very Good
FINAL SCORE: ABOVE AVERAGE GAME
Short Attention Span Summary
Confrontation is a PC translation of the tabletop miniature game of the same name. Using a similar isometric view, combat mechanic and new RPG elements, Confrontation feels like a modern take on Baldur’s Gate or Icewind Dale‘s gameplay with a decidedly fresh spin from the Confrontation world, but a less intricately told story. There’s an interesting blend of dark fantasy and a few elements of sci-fi and a story more told to you than you actually play through. The environments look fantastic while the character models themselves seem to stick out a bit. The game does have a few balancing issues as well as forcing the player to micro-manage nearly every aspect of the combat even on the easiest difficulty. Fans of the original tabletop game might enjoy seeing the tabletop elements come to life, and Strategy RPG players might enjoy the take on the game mechanics, but overall it needed a little more polish to be a truly solid entry in the genre.